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Full text of "A search in secret Egypt"

8i              A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
He disappeared into the upper regions again, out of which presently he returned. I heard the sound of slow, shuffling footsteps and he was followed into the room by a heavily built man of about sixty, who touched his forehead in greeting as he appeared in the doorway.
His head and shoulders were wrapped in a white shawl, from which a lock of raven-black hair escaped; his face was large-featured, good-natured, heavily moustached, but slightly bearded. His eyes were probably large, but he kept looking on the floor and obviously consciously controlling the lids so that they appeared quite narrow. He pressed me to retain my seat and himself occupied a large easy-chair.
I looked around the room, which was lofty and cool but contained a queer assortment of odds and ends. The walls were decorated with oblong panels in which beautifully lettered inscriptions from the Quran appeared in red on a yellow ground. Two stuffed brown otters reposed in a wall-recess; piles of documents littered the window-sills and, judging by the dust under which they were buried, they had not been touched for years; a printed Arabic almanack lay on a pillow beside me; while several empty ink-bottles were distributed all over the place.
In a few monosyllabic words the magician informed me how honoured he was by my visit and begged me to partake of some light refreshment before we proceeded to anything further. I thanked him, but, knowing the habits of Egyptian hosts, asked him not to trouble about coffee for me as I never drank it. He suggested Persian tea, a delightful beverage, and I readily accepted. And so, while an eager servant disappeared into the nearest bazaar, I tried to draw the old man into some communicative conversation. My efforts failed, for, beyond the merest monosyllables dictated by Egyptian etiquette, he would say nothing about himself. Instead, he turned the tables by putting me through a subtle cross-examination. I answered his questions frankly and freely, so that by the time the servant served up little dishes of typical Egyptian sweetmeats—large cakes of fried wheat-flour mixed with honey; bananas, biscuits and tiny glasses of Persian tea—he was just a shade less reserved. Indeed, when he discovered that I did not want to investigate